Could Oil Seepage Cause Rift Between Government and BP?

Some say BP is ignoring concerns of government scientists

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The federal government and BP may be at risk of splitting over how to proceed with the containment cap currently covering the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. When BP capped the well Thursday, the government suggested that the cap would be reopened, fearing that gas and oil could leak directly from the seafloor. But on Sunday, BP announced that it sought to keep the well closed until it could be permanently plugged.

On late Sunday, the fears of government scientists seemed to be vindicated. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government's oil spill point man, said seafloor monitoring detected seepage and "undetermined anomalies at the wellhead." Though the government has given BP permission to keep the cap on for another day, pundits are seeing a chasm between BP and the Feds:

Sunday's odd chain of events once again raises the question of who exactly is in charge of this procedure. It's not the first time there's seemingly been a split between BP and the government—the same thing happened during the top kill attempt in late May, when BP repeatedly expressed optimism that the plan would work only to see Washington, on the advice of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, shut it down over fears that the procedure might damage the wellbore. While Allen does have the final say what's being done to the well, it's still BP engineers who are running the show minute by minute, and the admiral is dependent on BP for the immediate information he needs to make those decisions. According to a federal official who spoke to the AP for their story Sunday night, BP was not complying with Washington's demand for more monitoring near the wellhead—and Allen himself had to send a letter to BP's Dudley to demand more information, including additional seismic testing of the seafloor.
  • Careful Dance Between BP and the Government, writes Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic: "The government and BP are circling each other carefully. BP wants to keep the test containment cap on until the relief well can be built; the government is proceeding more carefully. The stakes for BP are high and financial; the more cautious approach (the government's) might also mean (temporarily) more leakage into the Gulf."
  • I'm Suspicious, writes the Prairie Weather blog: "BP is trying to avoid uncapping the well because it would enable more accurate estimates of the amount of oil that has escaped into the Gulf since mid-May."
  • BP Has an Incentive to Keep the Well Capped, writes Osha Gray Davidson at True/Slant: "If the well is opened according to plan, the government will, for the first time, be able to accurately measure the rate at which oil has been flowing into the Gulf. That number will determine how much BP will have to pay in fines – at $4,300 per barrel. As things stand now, BP’s lawyers can be expected to argue that any estimate made by the government is arbitrary and probably too high. A scientific measurement of the flow could force BP to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines that they might otherwise be able to argue down in court."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.